musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Pa-O’

Shan Market Morning





One of my favorite activities while in the Shan State town of Nyaungshwe is wandering around the morning market in the center of town. I’m not a shopper and almost never buy anything — except for bags of fruit that I take to the monks at Shwe Yan Pay monastery each day. Instead, I’m content to roam the aisles and marvel at the cornucopia of sights and smells.












This market is absolutely bursting with vibrant colors, thanks to the profusion of fruits, vegetables, and flowers for sale. Factor in the traditional outfits of the Pa-O villagers who are both selling and buying, and pink-robed nuns who come in groups to shop, and the color fest is magnified even further.















Shan Village Dance Fever!



One of the highlights of my recent trip to Myanmar was attending a temple festival, a paya pwe, in the Shan State village of Tat Ein, not far from Nyaungshwe. And the best part of this festival was the dancing, both the choreographed night-time performances and the more spirited and spontaneous daylight strutting.



There was no competition that I know, but if there was, the man pictured above would have been the clear winner. This guy could bust a move, not to mention get on the good foot! He was a total delight to watch: absolutely brilliant footwork and some nifty hand gestures too. Honestly, I think James Brown would have approved of this guy!




The first night of the festival we were treated to dances by groups of the local village girls (“Those are my students!” one of the teachers boasted), plus performance by some Pa-O women from another nearby village. In fact, there were many other Pa-O villagers in attendance, including my hip-shaking buddy pictured previously. I think there were about a dozen different villages, each representing their local monastery that came for the festival. I’ll have more photos from the festival in a later post, but today, it’s only dancing!











Out of Focus and Off the Road


One more tale from the trip I took with the monks to Kakku, along with some very blurry photos. As I detailed in a post last month, I encountered a problem with my camera lens the day before I was scheduled to take the monks to Kakku. I ended up borrowing a small digital camera from my friend Ma Pu Sue in Nyaungshwe, so a photo-less journey was averted. However, I failed to account for another possible glitch; using up the camera battery. Which is exactly what happened. But fortunately the battery didn’t run out until we had finished traipsing around the stupa grove and taking the majority of the photos.  


I did remember to bring my faulty camera with me, thinking I could still coax the lens into operating, and it did, except that the focus was not quite what it should have been. Nevertheless, I took a few more shots of the monks posing in front of a pond, including a cute photo of one of the young novice monks holding a cat. Ah, if only that one had been in focus!



On the trip back to Nyaungshwe out on a country road in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, our van had a flat tire. That’s one phrase I had already learned in Burmese: bein paut de! Our Pa-O guide, Nang Khan Moon, suggested that we walk around the small village on the other side of the road, which just so happened to be a Pa-O village, while the driver fixed the flat. The one monk who had been sick was still not feeling well enough to accompany us, so he stayed behind while the rest of us took a stroll down the dirt lanes of the neighborhood.



I realize it’s difficult to tell from these hazy photos, but the village was quite attractive, and very clean and tidy. Immaculate is not strong a word. But there wasn’t a soul around. Nang Khan Moon explained that the villagers were all working at fields in the area and would return later in the afternoon. We passed attractive little thatched homes, most of which had firewood stacked neatly outside. I saw banana trees, papaya trees, tomato plants, and even some coffee plants growing at one house.



About 20 minutes into our walk, raindrops began to fall, so we picked up the pace and made it to the shelter of a nearby automotive parts shop before the rain got stronger. While we were at the stop, the two youngest monks purchased padlocks. This confused me. For one, where did they get the money to use for this purchase? And secondly, what do they need padlocks for at the monastery? Is there a theft problem of some sort there? I’ll have to ask some local friends about that next time I’m in town. In any case, the young monks appeared to be quite smitten with their new locks. Hey, whatever makes you happy!



A few minutes later, the van pulled up, a new tire now securely in place, and off we continued on towards Taunggyi. After stopping at one of the big hilltop pagodas in town, where I took yet more blurry photos, we piled back in the van (except for the sick monk, who was feeling so weak that he still wasn’t joining our walks) and headed back to Nyaungshwe. Yet another trip that hadn’t gone quite as planned, but as I told Nang Khan Moon, the flat tire was one of those “happy accidents” that gave me a chance to see something I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.




Monks Among the Ruins


Back to Kakku again? Yes, indeed. This was my fourth trip to the isolated grove of ancient Pa-O stupas in Shan State’s Kakku, but it wasn’t my decision to go there. I left the choice up to the novice monks at Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung in Nyaungshwe, specifically one of the monks, Pyin Yo Sawdaw, who told me that the sacred site of Kakku was his destination of choice.


Over the years I have taken groups of monks from Shwe Yan Pyay on field trips to places on interest in the area such as Taunggyi, Kakku, and the Pindaya Caves. Two years ago I ended up taking the entire monastery to the annual balloon festival in Taunggyi. But since that trip I’ve returned to Nyaungshwe twice, but haven’t taken the monks anywhere, opting to take the kids from the village of Tat Ein on trips instead. So, I was feeling a bit guilty lately, thinking I’d been neglecting the Shwe Yan Pyay monks, so I decided to give them first dibs on a trip this time. Pyin Yo Sawdaw is a really nice kid, and without a doubt the friendliest monk at the monastery. I’ve known him for several years and he always makes a point to talk to me when I visit the monastery. At this point he’s also the only one I know by name, all of the other long-timers that I knew have “graduated” to other monasteries in the region.


Prior to my arrival in town, I asked my friend Htein Linn to drop by the monastery and tell Pyin Yo Sawdaw the date when I would be coming to town, so that he could make any necessary preparations for the trip, such as getting permission from the Saya Daw, the abbot at the monastery. When I arrived in Nyaungshwe I dropped by Shwe Yan Pyay the first day and talked to Pyin Yo Sawdaw, and we agreed to go on Saturday that week. I told him that I’d rent a van, which meant that we could take about six monks. I also had a nice chat with the Saya Daw while I was there and he gave his blessing for the trip. It looked like we were good to go.



Or maybe not. When I arrived at the monastery on Saturday morning and rounded up the monks, Pyin Yo Sawdaw was not with the others. A few minutes later he showed up, but told me that he had to stay at the monastery and study. Normally, this kid is all smiles, but on this day he looked quite dejected. I’m still not sure what the problem was, but there wasn’t anything I could do to force the issue, so I gathered the other six monks and we boarded the van for the first leg of the trip, the 45-minute drive to Taunggyi.



Any foreign visitor to Kakku must first stop at the Golden Island Cottages office in Taunggyi (they are the administrators of the site, enabling that the Pa-O villagers in that area get a share of the proceeds) and pay the entrance fee and the guide fee. Our guide this time was Nang Khan Moon, a personable young Pa-O woman who had recently graduated from high school and was preparing for her first year at university.  She was working as a guide during her break.



The problem, though, was where to put her in the van! Due to Buddhist protocol, women are not supposed to touch monks, and even sitting next to them is frowned upon. Giving her the front seat was one option, but usually that perk is also reserved for monks. Then again, we were dealing with novice monks, so it seemed as if we could bend the rules a bit, and so we did. Nang Khan Moon sat in the front seat for part of the journey, but after one of the monks got car sick (and we talking puking-his-guts-out type of sick), we moved him to the front seat next to the driver, and Nang Khan Moon sat between me and another novice monk. No one seemed to mind that arrangement, so that ended up not being a problem at all.



The monk that got sick was one of the older ones, and one who had travelled with me two years previously during a trip to Taunggyi. He had no problems on that trip, so I don’t know what caused him to get sick this time, but he was the only one in the group who lost his breakfast. It was bad enough that when we stopped for lunch in Taunggyi (in keeping with that always tricky Buddhist protocol, we had to eat well before noon) he didn’t eat a thing, and when we arrived at Kakku he stayed behind with the driver and didn’t walk around the site with the rest of us.



I felt sorry for that kid, but I also was still feeling bad that Pyin Yo Sawdaw couldn’t have joined us, so I bought him a Kakku souvenir photo book, along with some postcards from one of the important pagodas in Taunggyi that we visited on the way back (more details about that leg of the trip on a future post). The trip hadn’t exactly gone as planned, but these six monks — well, at least five of them — seemed to have enjoyed the outing very much. One of them, in a gesture that was out of character for these normally very sedate monks — none of whom speak much, if any, English — profusely thanked me afterwards. That alone made the whole outing worthwhile.




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